The Cornelian was an automobile first manufactured from 1913
by the Blood Brothers, a universal joint
manufacturing firm in Kalamazoo, Michigan
. The car, though a commercial failure, was the most technologically advanced automobile
in the world, literally decade
s more advanced than even many racing cars
of the era.
The cornelian was designed as a lightweight, affordable car. At that it was certainly a success, as it weighed under 1,000 pounds (500 kilos). What made the car remarkable was that it used fully monocoque construction, where it had no frame, but rather the body itself was stressed to provide the structure. This was long before Colin Chapman built the first monocoque race cars, the formula 1 Lotus 49 driven by Jim Clark to win several grand prix.
Second, the cornelian had fully independent suspension. Independent suspension provides that a bump at one wheel will not affect the other wheels. Today independent suspension is the way to go, and used on automobiles as humble as the Ford Focus. But in 1915 live axles were common front and rear on all cars, including race cars. Swing axle suspensions were considered advanced back then, and used in race cars up through the 1950's. The live axle provides zero camber control, and is very affected by bumps.
Finally, the car had outstanding front/rear weight balance. The cornelian used a an 18HP sterling engine up front and a rear mounted combined transmission/differential. This is the same layout Porsche chose for the 944, and promotes excellent handling.
In hopes of marketing the car, the Blood Brothers decided to enter the car in a very prominant 100 mile race in 1914. The field of cars included Bob Burman's old Peugeot, Ralph dePalma's Mercedes a Grand Prix Delage and a couple Duesenbergs. Yet the hired driver, 'Cap' Kennedy, finished seventh in a car he'd never seen before! That led the Blood Brothers to hire Louis Chevrolet to race the car in the 1915 Indianapolis 500. Louis was unemployed at the time, so he took the job. He modified the car and qualified at 81.1 MPH. Despite the car's relatively tiny engine, it ran competitively until engine failure after 180 miles.
It is estimated that less than 100 cornelians were produced before the Blood Brothers abandoned their project. No original cars are known to survive today. The 1915 race car was recreated from parts (many new), and photographs by Allen Rohrstaf. It is a beautiful recreation, and the one of a kind car competes in concours and vintage events today.
If technological advancement guaranteed success, the cornelian would have been a tremendous success. As it is the car is almost unknown, even among car buffs. But its audacious and advanced design have awarded it a place in history that is well deserved.